2010 could see five-day UAV flight at 20,000ft

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Aurora Flight Sciences has developed a version of its Orion unmanned air vehicle that uses a commercially available internal combustion engine for a 454kg (1,000lb) payload capability and five-day endurance.

It should be selected for a joint capability technology demonstration (JCTD) programme by July for a mid-2010 first flight. Aurora declines to comment on the JCTD candidacy of the new medium-altitude version of Orion, which operates at 20,000ft (6,100m) and has a dash speed of 120kt (222km/h).

The General Atomics RQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper and Northrop Grumman's RQ-4 Global Hawk were all developed as technology demonstration vehicles.

Cdr Eliot Gunn of the US office of the secretary of defence, advanced systems and concepts, gave details about the new Orion at the A&D Forum Unmanned Air Systems 09 conference in London on 19 May.

He said the vehicle's subsystems consist of commercial off-the-shelf components, adding that "the real secret sauce is the integration and the composite materials they use".

He identified Orion as a persistent surveillance JCTD from 2010 to the end of 2012. Describing it as "partially built", he added that Aurora had used internal R&D funds to get the fixed-wing Orion close to its first flight.

Aurora had originally developed the Orion as a high-altitude, long-loiter (HALL) hydrogen-powered vehicle with its partner Boeing for the US Army. It used Ford automotive engines modified by Boeing to burn hydrogen.

Gunn says the new Orion does not use Ford engines. According to Aurora's website the Orion HALL has a 40.2m (132ft) wingspan, gross take-off weight of 3,175kg (7,000lb) and maximum payload of 180kg.